8 min read

I remember Shawn Michaels, the Heartbreak Kid

Memories from primary school
Two children standing in snow. The girl is about to throw a snowball at the boy, but he doesn't see it.
One second from pelting my brother with a snowball

Hello, grownups!

Back in 1970, a poet and artist named Joe Brainard published a memoir called I Remember. It's a disarmingly simple format, a collection of over 1,000 memories that all start with the refrain "I remember..."

I remember when a kid told me that those sour clover-like leaves we used to eat (with little yellow flowers) tasted so sour because dogs peed on them. I remember that didn’t stop me from eating them.

It's surprisingly moving. The memories skid from general nostalgia ("I remember sack dresses") to the deeply intimate ("I remember once when I made scratches on my face with my fingernails so people would ask me what happened, and I would say a cat did it, and, of course, they would know that a cat did not do it."). They leap from theme to theme, the repeated"I remember" almost like an incantation evoking this collage portrait of a life.

I Remember still has a cult following today, and it's inspired many homages (my favourite: Denis Hirson's I Remember King Kong (the Boxer), a portrait of white South African childhood between 1950-1970). It also makes for an extremely fun journalling prompt!

Brains never stop amazing me. They're squidgy hunks of fat and water that somehow manage to hallucinate a whole person. Quite remarkable, really.

Think of a dish from your childhood. Like, for me, every year on my birthday, my grandmother would make me a date loaf (I despised regular cakes). I can recollect that date loaf in perfect detail: the spicy smell, the gooey sweetness, the crunchy crust. I can remember my grandmother's hands as she hand-mixed the dough, fingers twisted into bent claws from arthritis, how her fingers would ache afterwards, how she'd sit on the couch letting me rub blue camphor gel into her knuckles to ease her pain. How she made me a date loaf every year, despite the pain it cost her.

That memory of date loaf isn't stored in a specific "shelf" in my brain, like the memory orbs from Inside Out. There's not a specific neural circuit you could point to and say, "there it is, Nana's date loaf!" A number of different parts of my brain are involved in remembering: my visual cortex reminds me what it looked like, my olfactory centre recalls the smell, other neural networks remind me of the emotions associated with it and some general knowledge I have about how baking works. A memory is an action, not an object. A memory is like sheet music for an orchestra: your amygdala and hippocampus are the conductors, but to be remembered, the whole orchestra of your brain must work together to play that memory.

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